“It was tough to lose our main man, the man who could at any moment score a goal. We said we would win it for him and we managed to do that,” said Pepe.
“He could make the difference but we were warriors on the pitch,” added the defender, who is a team-mate of Ronaldo at Real Madrid. “There was a lot of suffering, it was a very intense game.”
Although Portugal had never won a major tournament before, this was their fourth European Championship semi-final or final in the past five tournaments – reaching the quarter-finals the other time.
They lost their only previous final – as Euro 2004 hosts – when underdogs Greece spoiled the party to leave a 19-year-old Ronaldo in tears. However, Sunday’s final at the Stade de France saw roles reversed with Portugal this time upsetting the hosts to win the final.
Ronaldo, the most capped and prolific player in Portugal’s history – with 61 goals in 133 caps – was in tears when he initially came off the pitch following Payet’s tackle.
After some treatment he came back on for a few minutes, but had to admit defeat and came off on a stretcher, again in tears, as he threw his captain’s armband to the ground before handing it to Nani.
The 31-year-old has won three Champions League titles and been named World Player of the Year three times, but had never lifted a trophy for his country,
“I am very happy,” said the forward, who cheered on his team-mates and shouted instructions from the sidelines in animated fashion during the frantic final moments of extra time.
“I have been looking for this for a long time, since 2004. I asked God for another chance at this because we deserved it. Today I was unfortunate, I was injured but I always believed that these players, together with the strategy, would be strong enough to beat France.
“This is one of the happiest moments in my career, I always said I’d like to win something with Portugal.”
Portugal hero Eder, who came on as a substitute, joined Swansea last summer but moved on to Lille after failing to score in 15 appearances. His strike against France was his first competitive international goal.
Ronaldo had given him some words of encouragement at half-time in extra time, four minutes before his winner.
“Cristiano told me I would score the winning goal,” said the 29-year-old. “He gave me strength and positive energy. A lot of hard work went into it.
“With the injury to Ronaldo, we went through a tough time because he’s very important for us but he gave us all his courage and his strength. We were able to win it for him and all the Portuguese people.”
Portugal, who were 20-1 to win the tournament, only won one of their seven matches in 90 minutes – the 2-0 semi-final win over Wales.
They qualified for the last 16 as one of the best third-placed teams having drawn against Iceland 1-1, Austria 0-0 and then Hungary 3-3.
Fernando Santos’ side beat Croatia 1-0 in extra time in the last 16 and Poland on penalties in the quarter-finals after a 1-1 draw. They are the first team to go to three extra times in one European Championship.
Portugal and Southampton defender Jose Fonte said: “I was playing League One a few years ago. It defies description – this could be a Hollywood movie.
“France are an amazing team. We lost our skipper, who is the best player in the world, but we believed to the end. Portugal has a shiny future.”
Santos took charge of his native Portugal in September 2014. The Iberians have not lost any of his 14 competitive games in charge.
“I am very happy, of course,” he said. “First of all I’d like to thank God for being with us, my wife, my mother, my grandson. My father, wherever he is – he’s probably having a few beers.
“Cristiano is an amazing example. Today he tried to remain on the pitch. He was very strong in the locker room, he helped all of the boys, that’s the definition of team-work. We have a bright future but right now we need to celebrate.”
What did the pundits make of it?
Former England midfielder and Match of the Day summariser Danny Murphy: “It’s the ultimate in football. This is for your country, something very few players have experienced.
“It’s an amazing story for a team who weren’t fancied before or during the tournament. They’ve shown tonight they possess character and quality.
“Ronaldo gives them the icing on the cake, he’s the one who can change the games. Tonight they didn’t need him. People won’t remember he didn’t play much in the final, they’ll remember he was the captain of the team who won their first trophy.
“Isn’t it brilliant to have a hero [Eder] rather than a villain? Someone scoring a wonderful goal in extra time to win a tournament like this compared to someone missing a penalty.”
Ex-England defender and BBC Radio 5 live expert Danny Mills: “Ronaldo can now put himself up there with the greats and an international trophy is maybe what is missing from Lionel Messi’s cabinet.
“Now he has eclipsed Messi because he has that trophy.”
Barcelona star Messi quit international football this summer after Argentina lost the Copa America final.